With Ayumi Hamasaki’s upcoming studio album on the way (god knows what it will be like, but I’m praying for a club-oriented one… just praying with my fingers crossed), I’ve decided to compile my favorite songs by the J-Pop Queen, who is also on the way to celebrating her 20th year-spanning career, which originated back on April 8, 1998 with her single “Poker Face”. We jump threw the fluff, the glitter, the grittiness, and the emotional ballads. So it only makes sense to make a list in honor of the Japanese singer… Oh, the list isn’t in top order, just alphabetical. So, lets glide along the list!
“Angel’s Song” was one of the promotional singles from her commercially acclaimed EP Memorial Address, a title I still baffle with pure enlightenment and mysticism. The J-pop number is very feminine and almost has a Rainbow era touch in its composition, which was a first-time exploration between Western genres and cringy-2000s electronica (no shade, but this track is banger). Definitely an uplifting tune to listen to.
Okay, so here’s the thing; I enjoyed Duty quite well and I felt it really explore Ayu-chan’s more serious and darker sides to her innocent and pretty demeanour (check out my review here). But at times, I kinda wish her dance tunes from the past would’ve really been pushed throughout her releases… then we get “AUDIENCE”, a bouncy house-like tune that shimmers gold, gold, GOLD! By far one of her most impressive uptempo anthems, and one of my personal favourites.
The fun element to “Boys & Girls”, like the rest of Loveppears, is that at a young age of just 20, Ms. Hamasaki started to become a trendsetter in music; her sound started to evolve in many ways, her production became a lot slicker, and the fine arrangements of the recordings started to feel a lot better! To be completely damn honest (and gurl, I mean damn honest), “Boys & Girls” could have fooled me as an insane pop number ready to break the U.S. It’s just that good to ignore!
YUSSSSS! The rock Ayu is born! “Evolution” was another million-selling single by the J-Pop queen, and whilst the singer had performed a few guitar-driven tracks beforehand, “Evolution” was a brand new type of fire… and I mean hot blazing fire realness! The scratching guitar strumming, blended with an intoxicating vocal delivery and chaotic music arrangement! Uh hello! Number one single right there!
Uhh yes, “Game”, my ultimate angst-like anthems. This was without-a-doubt one of her stronger rock entries, almost baring a slight tinge of punk rock and that spacey electronica that riddle the charts throughout the early 2000s. Ayu’s vocals are, as always, over-the-top, and with a catchy anthem like “Game”, nothing would get its way… but doesn’t the gritty and gothic music video remind you of another character that loves playing games? (Jigsaw anyone? No, no me…).
I discovered this single back in… god knows when, 2012? 2013? Uhhh who cares, it’s a solid hit nevertheless! “Independent” was one of three tracks from the highly successful H EP that Ms. Hamasaki released in July 2002 (it became the only single to shift over one million units that year, one of her highest selling releases and the highest selling single that year! crazy huh!) It’s cheer-leading claps and quintessential instrumentation arrangements always makes me feel cherry, and the singer deliveries on point!
Speaking of July, the second track from H was in fact a song title “July 1st”. Now y’all, I’m gon’ have to be really honestly right now, but without another thought in my brain, this number is by far my favorite Ayumi Hamasaki song… to f’ing date. Its sound is very unique because of how Ms. Ayumi borrows a variety of genres, such as a hip-hop like scratching throughout the track, a summery breeze of guitar instruments, and her typical J-dance beats throughout the chorus. Also, her songwriting up to there had come along way, focusing on herself expressing a sense of excitement instead of sadness and loneliness (no shade to the bae, but… yeah, been there, done that…) Definitely a track to reckon with, and one to be recongized .
But as we glide through the lists, we head to some emotional ballads… “Love (Destiny)” being one of them. A gentle piano melody soothes Ayu’s effortless vocals, and with it wrapped around very subtle guitar strumming and downtempo bass elements, this single became her first number one in Japan (and so it deserved to be!)
Continuing her ever-lasting streaks of number ones, “M” was a turning point in Hamasaki’s career (and definitely one in my “omg-I-love-Ayumi-Hamasaki” book of her best songs). You may think its another love ballad that expresses pure harmony and grand instrumentation, but then BOOM! The chorus and second part is just as uptempo has her J-dance work! Also, her vocals evolve so much with fire and passion, and her songwriting works so well! Uhhhhhhhh, maria…
“Moments” is a rare pop ballad by Ayu. I’m always exposed to her over-dramatic production and arrangement to the point where I don’t even know what the damn focus point of the song is. But “Moments” reassures that her vulnerable songwriting and vocals take center stage, whilst the stripped acoustics and drum beat follow on her deliveries. I bet you all the pop divas of J-pop land were freaking when they heard this (okay not really, but its still a banging number).
Awhhhhh “Next Level”, a true rarity of a gem. I hold this song close to my heart as it reminds me of a certain sense of nostalgia and moving forward. It’s a sparkling dance number that could easily be taken as an uptempo ballad, but there is a uniqueness that stands way about her most recent releases post Next Level (yes, that’s the title of the album too). It’s an awesome empowerment anthem that I could recommend for the years to come! Great song!
“Ourselves”, the gritty dark electronic-R&B track that soared waves across Japan, was one of the first tracks that introduced me to Ayumi… and thank god it did because I was impressed. This was also another single featured from Memorial Address, and appeared on the EP & (My J-pop how many EP’s does she have??!!!) I feel its a really nice track because instead of the dramatic offerings she showcases on the rock anthems, she focuses the gothic terror of its themes into R&B compositions (ohhh, and the music video… that’s creepy as hell.)
The song that brought all the magic… all the glamour… all the J-pop realness. “Poker Face” was Ayu’s debut single, released on April 8, 1998… I know right? It’s a sparkly little Kawaii gem that shimmers a cute vocal performance by the singer, and even the jazz-like instrumentation gets me all funky and poppy. And no, for the millionth time… this is NOT the Lady Gaga version, so bugger off.
By far one of my favourite pop ballads by Ayumi… like, ever. This first appeared as a sample track on the singers studio record of the same title, but it came to prominence once it was recorded in full for the artist’s ballad compilation A Ballads. And may I say, I have never heard such a chill-out number that focuses mainly on the song’s lyrics and themes. A very precious pop number that will give you goosebumps.
“Seasons” was part of a triology set that boasted the single releases “Vogue” and “Far Away”, two tracks that were killers on Duty. This lil’ nugget has been heavily regarded as one of the singers most treasured songs, and with its vulnerable set-out, gentle tone and honest storytelling throughout its lyrics, I can see why. A remarkable song from start to finish.
Yuss finally, an uptempo pop number! Well, not really pop… more J-rock inflicted with elements of J-pop I guess… ehh, what the heck, it’s a great song, that’s what it is! “Step You” was yet another track that shook me hella good, mainly because the chorus is f’ing f’ing F’ING fire! It’s insanely catchy for days—more like years like it has done to me—and is by far one of her most impressive uptempo numbers.
Following suite of “Step You” is another rock composition, “Surreal”, which appeared as a single from Duty. I tell you straight-up, this is one amazing track. This rock-driven hit was a lot different to the parent album, having infused a very complicated guitar-rhythm that almost sounds electronic as hell. But that’s the creativity of Ayumi Hamasaki; you could think once and forget, but it will honest make you listen again, and you’ll be deeply hypnotized with her sound… Trust me, I know.
If anything, Ms. Hamasaki serves those ballads real well (okay, well some of them…). But unlike her lavish production and meticulous arrangements, songs like “Together When…” are nothing but beautiful, genuine and sentimental masterpieces. This is another track that honestly gives me goosebumps because it’s not a traditional J-pop ballad, it’s a real organic and almost Western-sounding one. One of her best ballads, FOR SURE YES GOD!
I remember the time I fell in love with “Whatever” like it was yesterday. I was loving her EDM music, and when I went through her previous discography and saw “Whatever”… gurls and boyz, it was like walking it music heaven. It’s an uptempo techno number that serves justice to her songwriting and newly-created image that was showcased nicely on her 1999 album Loveppears. Killer anthem I say!
So if I could say “Together When…” is most like a natural ballad, then “You Were…” is one lavish production that shimmers your typical Ayumi melody! Finishing my list is this little gem; a beautiful song that showcases her vocal range and heart-wrenching lyrics. Also, the music video to this single is absolutely gorgeous, and in my books, it stands as one of her bests; very magical, very gentle and very complete. Love this song!
So that ends my long list of favourite Ayumi Hamasaki songs! Tell me what you think about the list? Any mentions I forgot? Agree with me on some? I would love to see your comments and likes about this 🙂
- Friend II
- Mirrorcle World
- No Way to Say
- Opening Run
- Starting Over
- The Show Must Go On